Park View grad hits high note in music industry

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Joshua Van Tassel, his wife, Kate Holden, and their seven-week son, August, were in Bridgewater last month visiting Van Tassel&#8217;s parents, Odette and Howard Van Tassel, owners of the Cobber Corner leather business.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Joshua Van Tassel, his wife, Kate Holden, and their seven-week son, August, were in Bridgewater last month visiting Van Tassel&#8217;s parents, Odette and Howard Van Tassel, owners of the Cobber Corner leather business.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Joshua Van Tassel stands with his father, Howard Van Tassel on his right. To his left are his wife, Kate Holden and seven-week old son, August.</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Joshua Van Tassel performing with the band Great Lake Swimmers at Toronto&#8217;s Massey Hall</p>

Joshua Van Tassel has a word of advice to himself as the young student at Park View Education Centre in Bridgewater that he was 18 years ago, when he was thinking to make a career in music.

"I'd let me know that the lows will be probably lower than I thought, but the highs will be higher. That's the thing," the acclaimed musician, composer and record producer, who is now based in Toronto, told LighthouseNOW.

"It's going to be harder than you think. And you're going to have to work a lot harder. And there's going to be very stressful, uncomfortable dark times. In between those, it's going to be way more fun than you thought possible," he added.

Raised in LaHave and a graduate of Park View of 1999, Van Tassel and his wife, Kate Holden, a professional contemporary dancer, were in Bridgewater last week visiting his parents with their new born son, August.

Van Tassel is the son of Odette and Howard Van Tassel, who own the leather craft and shoe repair shop in Bridgewater, Cobbler Corner. Howard is also the producer of a podcast dedicated to blues music called Tic O Fog.

Van Tassel junior can speak to both the trials and tribulations of the climb to notoriety in the music industry.

On the tribulations side, he has acted in a supporting role both in Canada and abroad in cities such as Paris and Istanbul for a number of popular musical artists including Doug Paisley, Great Lake Swimmers, Amelia Curran, Megan Bonnell, David Myles, Royal Wood and Sarah Slean.

His website suggests he's quickly becoming known as a "go to producer," having made albums for David Myles, KIRTY, Dean Drouillard, Christine Bougie, Megan Bonnell, and Gypsophila.

"With his solo career, Van Tassel has a built a reputation as a producer and composer of electro-acoustic music that is both highly sophisticated and easily digestible," claims the website. It notes that his music has been featured on the Outdoor Life Network's programs Departures and Descending.

As well, his self-titled album has received critical acclaim from the CBC, The Toronto Star, and NOW Magazine, It was chosen as one of the top albums of 2011 by the CBC Radio 2 program, The Signal and was nominated for a 2013 East Coast Music Award (ECMA).

His album Dream Date was released in April 2013, earning a Music Nova Scotia Award and a second consecutive ECMA nomination for Electronic Album of the Year. His most recent effort, Dance Music: Songs for Slow Motion, won both an ECMA and Music Nova Scotia Award for Electronic Album of the Year.

Last year, he was named as one of the first artists in residence at the National Music Centre in Calgary. He collaborated with James Bunton on a project called Impossible Instruments. which explored more than 450 years of music technology with the goal of remixing it in a unique way.

On its website, the music centre noted that Van Tassel has become widely known for his "highly sophisticated productions, which flow seamlessly between acoustic and electronic traditions. His distinct instrumental style highlights the beauty in ambient noise, something Van Tassel actively collects during his waking life and then juxtaposes with modern technology to create brand new sounds."

He currently is working on a full length album/novella, Crosswords, set to be released in early 2018 on Backward Music.

Now 36, Van Tassel knows first-hand the trials and tribulations of coming from a rural community to make a name in the music industry.

After graduating from Park View, Van Tassel went on to study music at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, doing odd gigs on the side, and then at Humber College in Toronto.

He recalls seeing the expanse of Toronto as he flew into the city to go to Humber, and thinking, "'This is madness.' I literally remember thinking, 'What have I done?'"

While studying at Humber afforded him the opportunity to train by and be among an eclectic mix of music performers, the program was highly competitive. He felt under constant pressure to get music gigs on the side to help pay bills and supplement the academic training with hands-on experience.

Van Tassel remembers lugging heavy instruments while commuting by subway and the Go-Train for well over an hour each way to the gigs he managed to line up, and living in squalid accommodations while student loans piled up.

The local gigs, teaching music on the side, a grant from the Toronto Arts Council, and a stint with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, all helped. But it wasn't until 2012, when the touring gigs started to roll in, that he began to feel he was on his way.

"It sounds insane that it took a full decade to get to the point ... And making it as a musician means I'm paying the rent, I'm paying my bills, I'm not even, at that point, putting money away," he says.

It was only two years ago that Van Tassel paid off his student loans.

"It was very unceremonious. You just sign a paper. I expected streamers to fall down. Anything," he recalls with a chuckle.

Van Tassel says he wouldn't want to leave Toronto at this time, now that business is rolling in after all his hard work.

"This is pay-off time. Kate is working to 2019. I'm booked up until, I think, March at this point. It's not a wise time for us to leave."

But Van Tassel is determined his son gets to know Lunenburg County and the parents who were so instrumental in his earlier years. He's in the throes of generating more work with David Miles and Rose Cousins of PEI so he can do just that.

"I'm definitely spending more and more time here," he says.

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